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November 17, 2003
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A small but growing number of scientists and conservationists
are complaining about the endangered reptiles indifference to their
painstaking efforts to save them from extinction. Sea turtles have
been around for more than 150 million years and hundreds of concerned
individuals worldwide are exerting considerable efforts to reduce
the threats they face and provide them with a brighter future. However,
it seems that these popular animals are indifferent to the dedication.
"I often get the impression that they take all
of this for granted", says Milo, a researcher at the University
of Florida who runs a community development project in Costa Rica."No
sooner have I cut them free from fishing nets they get caught in that
they dive and swim away. Then I'm left to sort things out with the
fisherman by myself".
These feelings are shared by Donna Sharkit, who has
been placing satellite tags on green turtles since 1991.
"Our model took into account a parameter that has
surprisingly not materialized: the turtle's cooperation to surface
regularly in order to take regular satellite readings. For all we
know, she could be having a ball deliberately trying to fool us by
showing up at random locations. If you actually draw lines between
each location record, you get the word 'sucker'".
Sharkit has since gone on to study animal behaviour
with an emphasis on transferred vocabulary.
Volunteers on nesting beaches that assist hatchlings
to reach the sea are delighted by the reptiles' enthusiastic efforts
to scamper to the shoreline, only to be heartbroken when they disappear
into the sea without even waving a flipper at them.
"We don't expect them to shake our hands or anything,
but it would be nice once in a while to have them tug at our sandals
or something," complains a disgruntled British student who is
spending a month on the nesting beach of Baganas Bay in "Z".
He claims to have been lured by promotional leaflets of sea turtles
relaxing with volunteers at a local taverna, with lights turned low.
The concern, however, is far from unanimous. Professor
Krupfer at the World Consortium for Sea Turtle Liberation waives the
issue as the latest ploy by NGOs (Non-Governmental Associations) to
muster public support.
"It's quite disgusting, the depths we have reached
to raise the profile of sea turtles. What do NGOs expect next? A symposium
by sea turtles to develop communication skills with humans?"
Others disagree, ascribing the event to a predictable
trough in the evolution of sea turtle conservation.
"And anyway, what do we know? They're probably
very grateful - they just haven't come up with a way to express it.
Actually, I may have seen them smile," chips in a man with a
large beard who has nothing to do with this interview.
Some conservationists are already moving on. Says Jane
Ecko of ShellForce, "Obviously we have to face the fact that
our communication strategy cannot be limited to the usual suspects:
fishermen, tourist operators and resort owners. We have to include
sea turtles as well". Ecko is developing a pioneering approach
that involves positioning signs on nesting beaches pointing to the
best nesting areas.
So far, however, the pilot project has met little access,
with tourists interpreting the signs as recommended places to lay
"If sea turtles would express themselves more readily,
all that Ecko would get is one angry stare," volunteers a conservationist
who would rather remain unnamed.